Forehand Mechanics That Aren’t Taught

The best way to describe throwing a forehand is comparing it to a vertical jump. As we know, vertical jumping ability is directly influenced by the speed of the force exerted against the ground during a fixed span of time; the faster the application of that force, the higher the jump. To translate this concept into throwing a forehand, we can infer that the less time it takes to apply a given amount of snap to the disc, the more rotations will be yielded per ‘x’ amount of time. With this, if you look at an exceptional thrower like Alex Thorne, you’ll notice that he has one of the quickest releases out of any thrower in the nation. Furthermore, those quick releases all generally look more or less the same, regardless of the distance of the throw. Such quick releases coupled with a strong snap provide for a throw that will fly through the air with very little observable disruption from wind.

Along with disc snap, there are two other important aspects of forehand throwing.

GRIP. I cannot stress enough the importance of holding the disc with the correct grip. It can unquestionably make or break your forehand. In this situation, ‘make’ is a strong word. Any thrower’s forehand that isn’t ‘made’ is ‘broken’ to some degree. With that, most ultimate players have broken forehands, and that is because the majority of ultimate players are not elite. This certainly doesn’t mean that all elite players’ forehands are made, but the majority of them have at least near-made forehands.

Among most of the elite players, there is an almost universal correct grip. Instead of having to needlessly over-explain certain details, I’m going to provide some visual examples of proper forehand grip, along with an example of an errant grip. Most instruction only involves a basal display of “putting your index and middle fingers together inside the rim,” and hardly anything more. That instruction is insufficient and leads to god-forsaken grips like this:

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That was a picture of where not to put your thumb. It is clear that there is no control over the disc. Instead, this is proper thumb placement

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As you can see, with the thumb sitting well into the flight rings–if not past them–there is a visible difference in the amount of disc control.

But there is more to thumb placement than that. On the top of a disc, there is a flat plane. Common knowledge, yes, but the proximal phalanx of the thumb should be in a relatively parallel plane to the plane that is the top of the disc. I am specific about this bone in particular because not all hands are the same, and some individuals’ distal phalanges are not naturally in line with their proximal phalanges. This link will specify these bones

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Now, on to index and middle finger placement. When you grip the disc, avoid locking the joint between the middle and proximal phalanges of your index and middle fingers. When they’re locked, snapping power is compromised. You can actually prove this to yourself by locking the joints on your middle finger, holding that finger about two inches from a tabletop, and then hitting the table top with it. Now repeat this, only this time unlock the joint and slightly curve the finger so that there’s a 160 degree angle between the middle and proximal phalanges. You will discover that the latter method will yield more power.

We can even look at the index and middle fingers of some great throwers and see that they do in fact have those joints unlocked, along with the 160 degree angle [more or less…(more less than more)]

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Now that we’ve covered the angle of the joint between the proximal and middle phalanges, let’s talk about the angle of the joint between the distal phalanx and the middle phalanx. This angle should be about 170 degrees, BUT, in the opposite direction. If you’re picturing this correctly, there will be an ever so slight zig-zag to the middle finger. To show yourself how this angle should look, lock all of the joints on your middle finger and stick the tip of the finger on a tabletop such that the finger is perpendicular to the tabletop. Now, push down against the tabletop and you will see that the angle of the joint between the distal and proximal phalanges becomes smaller the harder you push down. This is important because almost the entire distal phalanx of the middle finger is last place the disc snaps off of, and it is the place where the snap is initiated.

Lastly, there should be absolutely no gap between the disc and the meaty webbing between your index and thumb. The disc should be tight and snug against the webbing. Once you have the grip for maximum potential, the specifics of arm motion are the next things to be understood. Some say to keep your palm facing upwards during the throwing motion. That isn’t incorrect, but it’s only part of the story. We can look at this photo again

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You will notice that the commonly less hairy and lighter colored portion of the forearm is up and facing forward. This part of the arm should remain forward-facing throughout the forward motion of the throw. If this portion turns over (starts to face downward), the disc will most likely fly the same way. It will turn more and more outside in as it flies, and it will fall into the ground sooner than you’d like. If the disc is kept flat, and your arm stays in the correct position and DOES NOT rotate during the forward motion of the throw, the disc will probably fly the way you want it to–flat.

The final aspect of forehands that I will be covering is the angle created by the disc and the forearm. Similar to the joint between the proximal and middle phalanges of the middle and index fingers, the angle between the disc and the forearm should also be around 160 degrees.

I wish this photo could show the SPECIFIC wrong thing to do, but the form is so repugnant that it’s useless and an educational example

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There are two ways to make the angle between the disc and the forearm 160 degrees. The wrong one (which I tried to show in the above photo and failed) would have the bottom of the disc come closer to the top part of the forearm. The correct one is the opposite, and shown in these photos

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The top of the disc tends toward the light colored, under side of the forearm in this example of the correct angle.

That should about cover everything with hopefully enough detail.

10 thoughts on “Forehand Mechanics That Aren’t Taught

  1. Rob,
    What’s your opinion on all this? Do you have anything to say or add? What would you say are important nuances to the forehand?

  2. Could you clarify the final point please?
    You’ve explained what not to do, but the pictures aren’t clear enough to me, to describe what we should do.
    Thanks

  3. I see nobody ever talks about the fundamental function of the ring finger, which should firmly press against the lower external part of the rim, helping immensely the thumb for the stability of the disc.

  4. Agreed…need additional step by step breakdown of the approximate ideal throwing motion. Have you or your associates done any filming of the ‘ideal’ throwing motion maybe using stop action photography to focus very closely on the position of the body, arm, hands as they work together for the optimal throw.

  5. When looking at Brandon Malecek’s throwing grip from that image, howcome I cannot see his fourth and fifth finger? They don’t appear to be on the outside edge to stabilize the disc with pressure from the first and second finger on the inside of the disc’s edge. How does the disc not fall out of his hand in that photo?

  6. jobelenus I’m guessing they are underneath the rim, but not touching it. That’s what I could come up with from gripping the disc trying to keep the 4th & 5th fingers hidden from view. Not sure why he holds it like that but it’s what works for him…

  7. I have a question regarding finger placement. Where should one place the tips of the index and middle fingers? Fully on the rim? On the intersection between the rim and the flat underside of the disc? One on each?

  8. Combination of both…I typically have the forefinger pressed hard on the flat, pressed against the middle finger that presses on the inside rim. Tuck your other fingers away. The same way you press on the inside of the disk should resemble the way that you would hold a ping pong paddle (Asian style) or chopsticks. These methods also require tuck away the last two fingers. Hope this helps.

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